While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
Uncertainty, doubt, fear, and even anger: this is where he left them, wasn’t it? He had been taken from them, against their will but apparently according to his, and crucified. He was dead and buried. And then he rose again. He came back. Only this time to – leave again.
But that is not their reaction. They rejoice with him, they are exceedingly glad, and they await the fulfillment of his promise patiently blessing God. They wait.
What he gave them: teaching – all the Scriptures regarding the Messiah, from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings – must be fulfilled. In him? In you!
You must go forth and proclaim – you are my emissaries: and this is what you must proclaim: repent and forgive.
The imperial envoys would have a message too: triumph and hegemony, the prince of peace in this world has conquered this world, and now there is peace and quiet. And we can do business in a friendly environment like that. That is good news, gospel, as the world sees it.
Jesus sends his messengers with a different message, a different set of proclamations than any Caesar ever gave: he gives a message that will not gain you the whole world but it will give you your souls.
Repent – turn – convert; and forgive – as you are forgiven.
Then you will be free. Then you will be made whole. Then you will be entering the kingdom that even now is coming in power.
And this power is the power of the Word, of the promise.
“Let it be with me according to your Word.” Way back at the beginning of the story, the good news as Luke tells it, that is what Mary said: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
According to your Word. Not simply will – as Father Andrew pointed out to me this Easter season – not will, as we might interpret it; but Word, as we know it. As we know him.
And how do we know him? We know him in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers, in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, and in every act of service to the unknown stranger and the ones in need among us:
I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you made me welcome,
I was naked and you clothed me,
I was sick and you cared for me,
I was in prison and you came to see me. (Mt 25.35-36)
I was in despair and you came and brought me hope.
Hope. That is what they are holding onto. Not riches, fame, or glory, not a particular way of doing things, or of being together. Things are not going to be the way they were. They are going to be different and they are going to be better. Beyond belief.
They have faith beyond faith, formed in doubt. They have gone through a period of struggling as so many of us do. As we all do.
Faith grows in strength as it is transformed through the process of doubt and rebirth.
Baptism is a miniature of the process: we die to the old way, we are immersed in a period of not-knowing, not-being, and we emerge, we begin to emerge, into new life.
Transitions are like that. They begin with an ending, and then pass through a neutral zone (a muddle), before they reach a new beginning. It’s sort of like crossing the street in New Orleans. You leave the curb and cross the lanes of traffic going one way, until you reach what they call the ‘neutral ground’, the in-between place where the streetcars run, or there are trees; it’s just a gap between one way of going and another. And then you cross to the other side. But you don’t get to the other side until you leave the first curb, pass through the scary in-between of the naked neutral place, which you’d just as soon skip, and then you can make your way onto new territory.
An end, a muddle, and a beginning. Simple. Difficult.
Jesus does not leave them alone for long, on the neutral ground between his departure and the new arrival. He blesses them and withdraws from their sight not before he assures them of the promise of the Lord: wait here, wait in the city, and God will clothe you with power.
Now why would he do that? Why would Jesus reassure them, sure, but even better, why would God clothe them with power? So they’ll feel safe again, all better now?
Better than that – God gives the ‘power from on high’ for a higher purpose that self: he gives it so that they can fulfill his final commission, and the promise of God.
Remember what he gave them: teaching and a blessing.
All scriptures must be fulfilled, he taught them, regarding the Son of Man. He must suffer, die, and rise again on the third day. And then – something must happen: PROCLAIM THE GOOD NEWS. That’s your job!
That is Jesus’ final commission to his disciples. All the nations must hear the word: Repent and forgive. Turn and be forgiven. And be released yourself – to live.
Live into the new age now beginning: when God reigns.
We remember his death and proclaim his resurrection, and we prepare the way for his coming in glory.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. Come; be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Be known to us in the breath of your Spirit upon us. Be known to us in one another in love and be known to us in service to the stranger. Amen.
Ascension, Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Psalm 93, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53, Ac 1.1-11, Ps 47, Ps 93, Eph 1.15-23, Lk 24.44-53, Joel 2.28-32, Joel 2:28-32, loss and gain, hope, Mt 25.35-36, Matthew 25:35-36, Elysian Fields, neutral ground, transitions, JRL+